Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nine Stories about Kids

Inspired by a fellow educator from the Teacher Leaders Network , John Holland and his 12 stories, I wanted to share my stories about kids over the last almost twenty years that I have been an educator. These are the ones that come to mind from my years of teaching.

Cory - Most days of my first year of teaching seventh grade language arts Cory either sat on the stool next to me at the front of the room or stood next to me from whatever spot I chose to teach. Cory was my first experience with an ADD child. He fashioned angel wings that we attached to his back that he wore to the cafeteria one day. He wanted to "be good" so bad.

Tyrone - Every sentence was a song to Tyrone. It didn't matter what you said, he could find a phrase, a chorus, a verse from a song that fit right in to what you were saying....and he would sing it, out loud, right in the middle of instruction. He was sixteen and in the ninth grade. He dropped out of school that year.

Brett - Green Day was god that year, and Brett wrote lyrics like he was Billy Jo Armstrong. It was the year I was fired up about Nancy Atwell's In the Middle and used her writing workshop to get a group of seventh graders fired up about writing....even if it was lyrics that they wrote sometimes.

"Red" - I don't remember his name, just his fiery red hair, his bad attitude, and his announcement that he didn't read. EVER. He read The Outsiders in my seventh grade language arts class; he connected with literature. He said it was the first book he'd ever read. He was Ponyboy.

Sarah - She cried when I told her that I was leaving the language arts classroom to take a job as a media coordinator in another county, and she wrote me the nicest letter about how much she'd miss me. I don't think I've ever used the stationery she gave me. Using it up seems like it means losing the memory.

Jessica - That girl loved to read, and she was the BEST student media assistant that I've ever had. She was diligent about keeping her shelves straight and was always pleasant and excited about helping other students. She insisted that we have a Battle of the Books team, even if it meant only four eighth graders on the whole team. We lost the battle, but we won the "war".

Amy - Another of my wonderful student media assistants, I saw her at a local drugstore a few years ago. She told me she was now working in education and that she had a baby. She had turned out to be a little more serious than her seventh grade days. I felt old.

Michael - The day he hid in the media center, reading graphic novels, we knew there was a problem. We were his safe place most of the time. More than once, I had to calm him down when he was frustrated. Did I mention he was very smart and autistic?

Autumn - In the mornings, sometimes she'd help us check out books; other times she'd just want to crawl under the counter in a fetal position and go back to sleep. She always shared her stories of home with us. She was always planning to move and wouldn't be coming back after the semester, track out, the summer. I'm glad she came back each time.

So many students over the year, it's always amazing what sticks with you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

R.I.P. Socrates

Socrates was my friend today, and we had a blast with a group of sixth graders!

Today I introduced the Socratic seminar to four different classes of sixth graders. One of our social studies teachers had given formative assessments on her recent content instruction, Ancient Greece. Those students who scored below the requisite score remained with the teacher for remediation on the content; those students who scored above the requisite score spent their class time in the media center with me.

After viewing the painting, the Death of Socrates, we read an excerpt from a text on the death of Socrates. I opened the seminar discussion with the essential question: was Socrates' trial and death justified?

While students struggled with the seminar style in the beginning, some of the students provided some really thoughtful responses and comments as the discussion moved from the basic indictment that Socrates corrupted the youth of the time to thoughtful comparisons with historical figures in our own culture, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., who faced imprisonment and assassination.

The seminar format is such a unique instructional style and a real change from the usual lecture/sit-n-git of some classrooms. While some of the students remained quiet and maybe unsure about jumping into the discussion, other students shared interesting insights into the history and culture of ancient Greece, the philosophers, and freedom of speech.

Ultimately I was energized in my role as seminar facilitator today! Thanks for letting me teach and enrich today, Ms. S!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Purpose of Staff Development

In my Google reader today, I had a great image from Doug Johnson's The Blue Skunk Blog about staff development. How appropriate since I'm currently sitting in an in-service, a staff development session, about student intervention strategies.

So what does it say about me that I am actually blogging while a clip of Abbott and Costello doing "Who's on First?" plays? I know the clip is to demonstrate how we all need to be on the same page, we all need to use the same language, and we all need to be the experts to instruct appropriately for our students.

Is this professional growth opportunity geared toward me and my needs or is this a "sit-and-git" where all that's said today will go in one ear and out the other?

So far, the presentation has been interspersed with video clips, which unfortunately the librarian in me is questioning whether copyright laws have been broken -- yes, I'm pretty sure we need a training on copyright laws and fair use and educational use. And I definitely need to talk with my staff about Presentation Zen because the PowerPoint slides in the presentation are waaaaay too packed with words -- I'm having trouble reading them from my seat in the back of the media center.

I'm a little confused at this point. Possibly because I'm continuing to blog and have had a non-normed sidebar with my equally cynical and witty colleague. Colors. The presenters are talking about colors. Red. Yellow. Green. Blue. These coordinate with all the wonderful labels we stick on our students. Academically gifted. Special education. Limited English proficiency. Assessed but not identified. Oh, and now there's purple. Who remembers what purple was?

So how effective is such a presentation among a staff of 60 certified teachers at the end of the day? Okay, so it's not at the true end of the day. Today was an early release day, so our workshop began at 12:30 p.m. Some "lecture", some hands-on (looking at data in cumulative folders), some video clips, some handouts. They could really use a microphone. *sigh*

Core content teachers have a real opportunity to strategize, work together, determine the intervention strategies to use with students. Even the elective or specialist teachers are pulled in to the conversation, especially since they see students every day. The drawback for me and the folks at my table are that we don't fit the mold, or at least the mold for this particular staff development.

As a teacher-librarian, I work with all kids. I collaborate with teachers to integrate information literacy skills, but I don't see students in a formal instructional setting every day. Students behave differently in the less structured circulation and independent research setting of the media center. And while I recognize their varying academic needs, we meet a very different need for many students during their library visits.

So while I appreciate the workshop environment and presentation style of this particular staff development, what is the purpose of this staff development for me?